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Maryland graduates have on average $32,000 in student loan debt. Here’s how to stem the crisis. | COMMENTARY

Students at Morgan State University on average graduate with debt well above the national average: $46,194 compared to $29,076, according to a new report.
Students at Morgan State University on average graduate with debt well above the national average: $46,194 compared to $29,076, according to a new report. (Kim Hairston / The Baltimore Sun)

When it comes to the $1.67 trillion student loan debt crisis that burdens the United States and its young adults, Maryland has its fair share.

According to LendEDU’s 5th annual Student Loan Debt by School by State Report, an in-depth analysis of student loan debt figures at 475 colleges and universities, Maryland’s average student loan debt per borrower figure for the Class of 2019 was $32,165. Solidly above the national average of $29,076, Maryland’s figure was the 8th highest in the country and was an 8.39% year-over-year increase from its Class of 2018 number.

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Of the higher education institutions analyzed for the state of Maryland, only three had debt per borrower figures that were better than the national average, including St. Mary’s College of Maryland ($25,579), Salisbury University ($27,355), and Bowie State University ($28,807).

Schools like Morgan State University ($46,194), Loyola University Maryland ($41,443), and the University of Maryland College Park ($29,133) have not fared as well in trying to mitigate student loan debt among their student bodies.

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Despite all of Maryland’s student debt woes, it’s worth noting that only 49% of Class of 2019 graduates from the state had student loan debt upon leaving campus; this percentage was tied for the 14th lowest in the country.

Yet still, the student loan debt crisis in Maryland is exactly that despite one good trend. So, how does it get turned around?

For starters, the Student Loan Debt Relief Tax Credit is an excellent step in the right direction. Designed with a preference toward students who receive their bachelor’s degree in the state, the program provides an income tax credit to taxpayers who are successfully repaying their student debt.

The program awarded nearly $9 million in tax credits for the 2019 tax year to borrowers who surely appreciated the financial assistance.

More sensible ideas like this will be required before Maryland can reverse its course.

Maryland should expand its student loan forgiveness and assistance programs. Right now, the state has forgiveness programs for homebuyers, government or nonprofit employees that help the underserved, and dentists.

Create forgiveness programs for all teachers that remain in-state to give back to the youth, nurses who stick around to serve Maryland’s sick, and to employees of startups that opt to create in Maryland so the economy can be revitalized in lockstep.

Another potential solution would have all public institutions in the state offer a permanent virtual learning option that comes at a far cheaper price tag than the standard higher education experience.

Some have warmed to the idea of attaining a bachelor’s degree through Zoom as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s up to Maryland to adjust to the times we live in by creating a state-of-the-art online learning platform for its public colleges and universities. Not only will these schools see upticks in enrollment by attracting those who want to learn digitally, but they will reduce their student debt averages because not as many loans will be needed to finance this affordable way of educating.

Finally, Maryland’s lawmakers in Washington, D.C., must do what they were voted to do and represent their constituents, especially their young ones, who carry student loan debt.

They can do this by pushing to reauthorize the Higher Education Act that, much to the surprise of no one, has been sitting idle on Capitol Hill. Specifically, a system of accountability must be created where colleges that demonstrate a history of high student loan debt must then help repay a portion of all debt still held by former attendees as punishment.

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If there are compliance issues among the schools, all federal grants and funding will be withheld under federal law, while a loss of accreditation would be the next step.

If this accountability measure is included in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, watch how quickly schools around the nation lower tuition rates.

Maryland is certainly not alone in facing a student loan debt crisis, but it can be at the forefront of creating answers that work to fix this ever-growing problem.

Michael Brown is the director of communications at LendEDU. He can be reached at brown@lendedu.com.

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